Ah, I suppose it was just a matter of time before the Florida Bar went after divorce lawyer Steven Miller, who ran these provocative ads that insult overpriced downtown lawyers and promise to help clients “rid themselves of that vermin [they] call a spouse.” According to this story (3/27/07), when Miller submitted his ad for review by the Florida Bar, found that the ad is a “verbal depiction” whose language promises a particular result, which is prohibited under Florida law.
When I posted about Miller’s ad several months ago, I applauded him for targeting that underserved part of the population that can’t always afford high priced legal counsel. At the same time, I explained that I wasn’t a fan of his confrontational style, not because I found it offensive or unprofessional or deceptive but rather, because I feared that it would attract the types of uncompromising, litigious clients who eventually devolve into “clients from hell.”
Just like with its decision banning use of animals like pit bulls, sharks and snakes as logos, it seems to me that the Florida Bar’s prohibition on Miller’s ad is a stretch. In the “animal logo” decision, the Florida bar determined, among other things, that consumers might not realize that pit bull on a logo is simply a metaphor and instead, might conclude that the lawyers really behaved like pit bulls. Here, the bar’s conclusion that the bar promises a result is untrue. In the ad, Miller says that by signing up for his service “you’re on your way to getting rid of that vermin you call a spouse,” but he doesn’t promise that he will succeed. That’s not a guarantee of a result in my view.
If Miller’s ads are truly offensive – and don’t kid yourself, that’s the only reason why the bar wants them eliminated – then the market will decide their success. Clients turned off by Miller’s ads won’t use him and as a result, he’ll change his approach. But if consumers have a need for low cost or aggressive, straight talking lawyers, they’re entitled to that option – and without Miller’s ad, consumers might never learn of that option. Moreover, in our technologically enabled age, the bar has an option as well: let the bar put up its own video on YouTube and explain to consumers what’s wrong with Miller’s ads. The bar doesn’t need to ban them.